A BALLINHASSIG company has been fined €50,000 for exposing workers to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres, in a case the judge described as ‘quite alarming’.
Leeside Cut & Core Contractors pleaded guilty to two counts related to the asbestos, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin described it as ‘quite an alarming case’.
He added: ‘There is nobody – judge or labourer – who is not aware of the dangers of being exposed to or working with asbestos. Yet this company in a cut and core job carried on nonchalantly in the presence of asbestos.
‘I think that is a scandalous way to conduct business. Asbestos dust is known about. It is not one of these hidden dangers. It is on the ceiling, and all this dust is on the floor and they started driving diggers on it.’
Defence barrister Cian Cotter accepted that employees and directors of the company stayed on site after being alerted to the presence of asbestos, but he said they only did so to make the site safe for those who would be commissioned to remove the asbestos.
Judge Ó Donnabháin told him: ‘I find that mind-boggling, the level of disregard. It is either a basic ignorance or a disregard, neither of which goes to the credit of the company.
‘They did comply with the HSA when they came, that is to their credit. They pleaded guilty, that is to their credit.’
The judge said he did not want to put a company out of business, but he said one had to have regard for safety and there were real safety risks in this case.
HSA inspector Tom O’Sullivan said he received confidential information about work taking place at a two-storey office building at Gould’s Hill, Mallow. He said it was built in the 1970s and that a building of that vintage would have asbestos.
He said there was a considerable amount of debris and it should have been apparent to those working there that there was asbestos, as the tiles in the ceiling had an identifying asbestos marking.
‘Once they became aware of asbestos, they should have stopped their work,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
Mr Cotter said their job was to remove partition walls and not to interfere with ceiling tiles and that a hole in the ceiling was made by someone else as part of an examination they were doing of the building.
Mr Cotter BL said employees were informed about the presence of asbestos, they were directed not to interfere with the ceiling tiles, and they were given gloves and masks. The barrister said the workers who were probably most exposed on the site was a company director who was operating a mini-digger.
He said that when the HSA told them it was a high risk premises the defendant company fully co-operated in every way and complied with all requirements of them.
Mr Cotter said the defendant company was not an expert in asbestos removal, and did not hold themselves out as such.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said: ‘They had plenty of notice of the asbestos there but they seemed to carry on regardless.’
Mr Cotter replied that his clients were pleading guilty. ‘It is accepted what they should have done was close the site and leave. The works they did were necessary to facilitate contractors in asbestos to work on the site. They complied with all directions of the HSA. The company is a small company in business since 2004 with eight employees.’
Leeside Cut & Core Contractors, of Blackhill, Fivemile Bridge, Ballinhassig, pleaded guilty to two charges.
The first was that between January 21st and February 6th 2015 at Gould’s Hill, Mallow, they failed to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of employees, in that they failed to manage the demolition work at the premise in circumstances where there were asbestos-containing materials present and that demolition work, was being carried out in an uncontrolled fashion, causing damage to the asbestos containing ceiling tiles and floor tiles on the premises, thereby exposing employees to the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres.
The second plea of guilty was to the related charge of failing to carry out a risk assessment.
The judge said that if €5,000 was paid within a year, an application could be made to pay the remainder of the fine on an annual basis over a total of 10 years. Siobhán Lankford BL said the prosecution had no difficulty with that arrangement.